Monday, January 5, 2009

Navigators, Map Makers and Map Readers -- Part Three: St. Brendan

My friends know I have a liking for what I consider to be great missional saints of old, most of whom my friends consider to be obscure pilgrims along the pathway of church history. All this talk about navigators and map makers brings to mind the great Irish saint, St. Brendan, often known as “Brendan the Navigator” or “Brendan the Bold”.

When I was a kid growing up in Staten Island, New York, there would occasionally (around Columbus Day) be an argument among my ethnic neighbors about who really discovered America. Few gave that honor to Columbus. The Italians claimed it was Giovanni da Verrazzano, who at least was the first to sail into New York harbor, supposedly on April 17, 1524. The Irish, on the other hand, claimed that it was St. Brendan, who a thousand years earlier (c. 540), had first laid foot on American soil, and that Columbus himself relied upon accounts of Brendan’s voyage.

Perhaps because the Italians significantly outnumbered the Irish in my neighborhood, or perhaps because of historical accuracy, the Italians won the argument, even to the point of naming the great bridge across the Narrows the “Verrazzano – Narrows Bridge”.

But St. Brendan still captures my imagination as one of the great navigators and missionaries of old. To sail the great Atlantic in a small boat with sixty pilgrims was an act of faith and a life of vulnerability. To be a navigator is to journey in a life of vulnerability, always trusting that the fixed points will be there and the journey will be guided. But many navigators have also found the truth of Alan Roxburgh’s statement “that what happens in vulnerability is where God’s future shows up.”

St. Brendan the Navigator understood his calling to walk in vulnerability, and he left us this prayer:

Shall I abandon, O King of mysteries, the soft comforts of home? Shall I turn my back on my native land, and turn my face towards the sea?

Shall I put myself wholly at your mercy, without silver, without a horse, without fame, without honour? Shall I throw myself wholly upon You, without sword or shield, without food and drink, without a bed to lie on? Shall I say farewell to my beautiful land, placing myself under Your yoke?

Shall I pour out my heart to You, confessing my manifold sins and begging forgiveness, tears streaming down my cheeks? Shall I leave the prints of my knees on the sandy beach, a record of my final prayer in my native land?

Shall I then suffer every kind of wound that the sea can inflict? Shall I take my tiny boat across the wide sparkling ocean? O King of the Glorious Heaven, shall I go of my own choice upon the sea?

O Christ, will You help on the wild waves?

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